"Sigh, we couldn't buy any horses... I didn't think they would be in such short supply in the imperial capital. Over the last couple of days we only managed to buy a few dozen horses. We had to pay double the market price for them, and they are all being used by milord to pull the carriages," grumbled Freiyar as he prepared the bonfire.
Josk said, "We didn't plan well enough. We thought that we would be able to buy some mounts when we came here, but we forgot that the imperial capital doesn't breed horses at all. Add to that the fact that the Second Highness's six legions require lots of horses, a shortage is unavoidable. I didn't think that we would actually have to walk back..."
"We've only traveled around fifteen kilometers, even after walking for the whole day. I estimate that we can move another 30 or so kilometers tomorrow. That's rather bad for us. Since we're used to traveling around the Northlands on horseback, this pace feels slower than a snail's by comparison. Milord, should we head to the nearby residents of the nobles to buy some horses and carriages to travel faster? Since Silowas Island still needs to be developed, I think these carriages will be useful for transportation," Els suggested.
The group had left the capital and traveled for half a day when Freiyar instructed them to set up camp. The order came just as the sky began to darken. Thanks to the extensive training they had received, the 500 or so soldiers from the Local Defense Brigade settled down quickly. Surprisingly, the ones to complain were among the knights. Els, Jim and the others were used to traveling on horseback rather than marching. They grumbled while sitting by the bonfire. They had been able to sit in the carriage on the way to the imperial capital while escorting the Second Prince, but now they had to travel back by foot.
It was mainly because Lorist had bought a few thousand books in the imperial capital and intended to transport them back. Even though they had around 20 carriages, apart from the ones transporting food, all of them were filled with books. There wasn't even a horse to spare for Lorist; he, too, had to travel by foot.
"Very well, we'll take a detour tomorrow and head towards Doni River. From there, it will only take another day of walking for us to arrive at Dasanba Town. Over there is the main jetty of the Doni River where we can take a boat to travel along the river to the shores of Domesger City. From there, we'll only need to travel another two days to reach Jillin Harbor and get on our ship back to Silowas Island," Lorist announced after he took a look at the map.
"Then, do we still need to purchase carriages when we pass by the other dominions?" Els asked.
"Forget about carriages. It's fine to just get some horses that your subordinates can use to scout ahead so they can alert us if there's any danger," Lorist said.
"Hah, milord, with our force of 500, which dominion lord in the whole of the Andinaq Kingdom will have the guts and might to provoke us?"
Everyone laughed out loud at the comment.
It was true. The nobles of the Andinaq Kingdom had already been made incredibly subservient by the Second Highness. Most of their family forces had already been drafted into the reserve army. It would already be impressive if they managed to have more than 100 soldiers garrisoning their dominions. As Karitoke had mentioned, as long as they didn't encounter the Second Highness's army, Lorist would be able to go anywhere within the kingdom with his force of 500 Local Defense Brigade troops without fear of being obstructed.
"Milord, why can't we sell the horses we have in the Northlands over here? I feel it's a good idea. There's obviously a market for it," Howard said.
"Hehe..." Lorist laughed as he stroked Howard's hair, "It's not bad that you managed to come up with that idea. Under normal circumstances, that idea of yours would be a good one. But you forgot to consider one extremely important factor: who are we to do business with? Even though the Second Highness requires a huge number of mounts for his army, he doesn't have the ability to pay for them. The 300000 soldiers have already stretched his finances to the limit. He definitely doesn't have any gold coins remaining to pay for the horses. If we were to bring horses from the Northlands here, we would only get an empty promise from him. Something along the lines of reimbursing us after he reunites the empire…"
"Alright guys, let's take a rest a little earlier. Howard, heat some water up for us to soak our feet in. There's still a long way to travel tomorrow," Lorist said.
The night passed rather uneventfully. On the next day, they continued their travels almost immediately and only managed to obtain 7 mounts after traveling through four dominions along the way. Among these were old horses that were around 15 to 16 years old.
Els had laughed bitterly as he said, "Milord, are we buying these horses for them to spend their retirement back at our dominion?"
During the evening, they managed to arrive at Dasanba Town, which was within the dominion of Count Santos. It was rumored that the count was currently the legion commander of the Local Defense Army's Third Legion, and was at the border of the Redlis Kingdom. The one in charge of Dasanba Town was one of his trusted aides, Old Sunny.
Supervisor Sunny was incredibly respectful to Lorist. Any count with an escort of 500 fully-armed soldiers was definitely deserving of such respect. According to him, Dasanba Town was one of the most important river crossings within the Andinaq Kingdom. Mainly because it served to transport huge amounts of supplies and resources along the river to the frontlines at the border of the Redlis Kingdom. It greatly decreased the expenditure of manpower and pack animals on the task.
That's why Lorist was able to obtain the supplies he needed there. He was also able to purchase a carriage. As for the boat towards Domesger City, Old Sunny said that he could help Lorist with one of his connections -- a regiment captain in charge of the supply lines -- and ask him whether he could help out.
When he heard that Lorist was willing to pay 800 gold Fordes for the transport of his escort soldiers and the 20 carriages, Regiment Captain Holson was more than willing to help out. He even ordered the supplies that had just been loaded onto the ships be moved back onto the shore. In total, around 10 boats were emptied for Lorist to use for the trip to Domesger City.
When Lorist asked Holson whether that would affect the transport of supplies to the frontlines, the captain replied without a care in the world, "No worries. It's extremely common for delays upwards of a few dozen days to occur and traveling to Domesger City and back only takes around 8. Additionally, we can also transport some supplies from there to here, so nobody would complain about it."
When the captain heard Els complain that they weren't able to purchase any horses along the way, he laughed and told Lorist and Els that it was because they didn't have the right connections. He brought the two of them to the transportation convoy's camp. He quickly closed a deal with the person in charge of the convoy for the purchase of around 120 mounts for only 1000 gold Fordes. Even though they were not good war horses, they were more than fit for the task of pulling carriages.
Captain Holson's efforts were not in vain. He pocketed an additional 200 gold Fordes from the transaction. However, he would have to provide four more empty boats for the transportation of those horses.
Els asked him curiously, "How would you explain the disappearance of so many horses from the convoy to your superiors?"
Captain Holson laughed and said, "There are plenty of excuses we can use ranging from sickness, drowning, ill-fitting conditions, startled horses, and more. Any of these reasons would be enough to quell any suspicions people might have. The matter will be forgotten in a month. As for the lack of horses, they can just report it and ask for replacements. Naturally, that 1000 gold Fordes would have to be split up to quite a few people as well..."
Els contemplated what he heard solemnly. When he returned to their camp, he told Lorist, "Locke, I finally understand why you don't think that the Second Highness can unite the empire with only 300000 soldiers. Given the way his subordinates act, he wouldn't be able to do it even if he had twice the number of troops."
After another four days, Lorist and the rest arrived at Domesger City. Having paid the remaining 500 gold Fordes, Lorist parted with Captain Holson with a handshake and a face full of smiles. Soon after, he entered the city to go on a shopping spree. After another day spent resting, the group departed for Jillin Harbor. It would be only another day or two before they could to head out to sea.
In the evening hours, Jim, and two other guards who had been scouting, reported, "Milord, a dust cloud has built up behind us and it seemed like a regiment of troops are heading our way. There is an estimated 3000 soldiers and they will reach us in another ten minutes or so. Should we make way for them to pass?"
Lorist looked in the direction Jim mentioned. Not far from them he could see a dust cloud approaching.
Freiyar rushed over and said, "Milord, the troops are coming for us. Looking at how quickly the dust cloud built up, they must be engaging in a full-on charge. There isn't anyone apart from us on this path; there's no doubt that we are the targets of those soldiers."
Lorist hurriedly pointed at a small mound on one side of the main highway, and said, "Get the carriages up there first and build a defensive perimeter immediately!"
The mound wasn't that high. It was only about 30 meters tall, and dotted by a random assortment of trees. By the time Lorist and the rest got on top of the mound, the soldiers in the distance had arrived. Indeed, they had come for Lorist's troupe. Upon seeing Lorist and the rest heading up the mound, they slowed down and encircled it, seemingly intent on keeping Lorist and the rest up there.
Dulles used his sword to chop down a few of the trees, which was then carried away by a couple of the soldiers to be made into wooden barricades. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, Dulles asked Lorist -- who was also chopping trees beside him, "Milord, the soldiers beneath the mound are equipped with the Royal Family's Local Defense Force's equipment. Did the Second Highness send them here to hold us hostage?"
Lorist laughed bitterly as he shook his head, and said, "I am not too sure about it either. The Second Highness can be considered to be a formidable person and should not do something this irrational. I've already defeated a Blademaster right before his eyes, so he must be aware that cavalry troops like this wouldn't be able to stop me. Even if they managed to kill you guys, they'll still have a hard time getting their hands on me. And the moment I return to the family, I'll definitely mobilize my troops to avenge you. Should that happen, he'll have to forget about reuniting the empire entirely. It'll already be his good fortune just to be able to resist our assault. I don't understand what it is that made him take this move."
Freiyar and Josk approached and the former said, "Milord, we have surveyed the terrain of the mound. The slope that connects to the main road is the easiest to scale. We're currently stationing the carriages in rows in that direction to set up a defense line. After that, we'll install the barricades and dig some trenches. That should be enough to defend against the assault of the cavalry.
"Over there to the left is a cliff roughly 10 meters high. It'll be impossible for the cavalry or infantry to scale, so we don't have to station anyone there for now. On the right is an uneven slope which is difficult for cavalry to surmount but possible for infantry troops to traverse. I've already stationed around a company of 100 men there, so there shouldn't be a problem.”
"Behind us is this small forest. We're currently felling the trees to clear up the landscape so we can aim and shoot. We'll use the logs to build a few defensive walls, as well as prevent the enemy from using the forest as cover to attack us. However, one bit of bad news is that there is no water source in the area, and the water supply we have remaining will only last us two days at most. If the enemy decides to attack with fire, we will definitely be smoked to death," Freiyar said in a serious tone.
Josk added, "Milord, I made a rough estimate just now and found that the enemy has around one regiment of cavalry. The regiment should be around 2500 strong. Apart from some who are stationed at the cliff at the left side of the mound, the remaining ones have formed a semicircle around the front of the mound with the intention of stranding us up here. I suspect that they are waiting for more reinforcements to arrive before they start their assault. I suggest that milord breach the encirclement first and leave us here to defend against the enemy. As long as milord is able to make it back to the dominion, then the enemy's plans will definitely fail."
Lorist shook his head and said, "Since I brought you guys here, I will definitely bring you back with me. I do not have the guts to return to the dominion alone. Els, when it gets dark, bring Jim along with you to the cliff off to the left. Capture one of them alive for some questioning."
"Yes, milord," Els replied.
Under the starlit night sky, a number of light sources could be seen illuminating the area around the mound. Both the Norton Family soldiers and the cavalry of the Royal Family's Local Defense Force had some bonfires lit to alert them of any sudden movements or assaults by the other.
It wasn't a hindrance to Jim and Els, however. They managed to sneak into the enemy's ranks when they weren't paying attention, and soon returned with a prisoner.
Els carved a thick wooden branch into a chopstick with his dagger in front of everyone else, and threatened the prisoner with a similar fate if he didn't start talking.
The frightened soldier quickly spat out everything he knew.
"What?! You said that you came on the orders of Count Aslan to keep us here? So, he'll be leading two regiments of infantry troops over and will arrive in another two days?"
The situation was now clear. Gold ranked knight, and general of the Local Defense Force, Count Aslan, the elder brother of Viscount Aslan, whom Lorist had ordered to be beheaded, had personally mobilized his troops to kill Lorist. It was fortunate that Lorist took a detour and traveled to Domesger City by boat, causing Count Aslan to head to the wrong location. Otherwise, Lorist would have encountered them three days earlier. A fight to the death would have been raging already.
Currently, the orders the regiment of cavalry troops had, was for them to hold Lorist and the rest in place until Count Aslan arrives with his two regiments, totaling around 5000 soldiers, before beginning their assault. Count Aslan had left the banquet early, so he wasn't aware of Lorist beating Blademaster Climonto. He believed that his three regiments -- totaling around 7500 troops -- would have no trouble preventing the escape of even a single soldier.
Lorist spat out the grass stalk in his mouth, and said, "Since he wants to play around, I'll make sure to give him a good time."
Even though the sky was still rather dark, dawn was just on the horizon. It signaled the beginning of yet another day.
The troops patrolling at the foot of the mound looked upwards and managed to see the blurry silhouettes of the Norton Family soldiers as well as their gleaming spearheads illuminated by the torches.
"Alright, let's head back. It's time for our shift change," said the squad leader.
Behind him, sounds of water sprinkling on the ground rang out. The squad leader didn't mind and merely commented, "Can't you dismount if you want to pee? Lazy ass..."
Following that, he caught a whiff of blood in the air. Noticing that something was amiss, he turned back immediately, only to see a blade entering his line of sight...
Everyone was shocked when they saw Lorist kill off the whole patrol troupe with only one strike. The enemy didn't even have a chance to cry out. Following that, Lorist mounted one of the horses, and pulled his sword out of the body. He tossed the corpse to Jim and Els who were behind him. They laid the body down quietly and the three began their slaughter. The most shocking part of it was that the enemy wasn't aware of this attack at all. Not even a single one of them uttered a cry when they were killed. The speed, accuracy, and ferocity of Lorist's strikes caused the ones hiding in ambush to shudder.
That was the fourth patrol troupe, and they had gathered up to 80 war horses already.
"Alright, everyone. Mount up immediately. Those who still don't have a horse should continue to hide in ambush. We've already made preparations to kill our way into the enemy camp. Don't forget to light a fire. Freiyar will make his move when he sees the flames."
The cavalry regiment had set up five camps around the three sides of the mound. Each camp had around 500 soldiers. The patrol groups of 20 that circled the mound didn't expect that Lorist and the rest would slip down from the side of the cliff to begin their counterattack.
"Kill!" Lorist roared as he charged head-first into the first enemy camp. He was followed by Josk, Els, and the rest, who worked hard to carry out Lorist's plans. They set the fire, captured mounts, and killed the enemy.
Following the consecutive deaths of two Silver ranked knights at the spearpoint of Lorist's pike, the soldiers of the first camp completely crumbled. They ran with all their might towards the second camp with their equipment and hair all messed up. Lorist and the rest followed behind them and began their slaughter once more when they reached the second camp.
At that moment, the third to fifth camps were already alerted and began to react. A hundred and twenty cavalry could be seen charging towards the second camp to reinforce it. However, they didn't expect that halfway in the middle of their charge, sounds of killing would ring out behind them. Freiyar lead 400 Local Defense Brigade troops into the fifth camp. The cavalry troops that were not mounted were not able to defend themselves in the slightest, and the fifth camp crumbled almost right away.
By then, the second camp had already been breached. Lorist continued chasing the few hundred bare-footed soldiers towards the third camp. Freiyar, opposite him, was already succeeding in his assault on the fourth.
The sky soon brightened, and Freiyar rode to Lorist's side excitedly, and said, "Milord, it's our win! Victory! Milord, we breached five camps in one night and not a single enemy escaped. The surviving soldiers have all been captured. We also got most of their war horses."
"Are our casualties bad?"
"Around half of the Local Defense Brigade troops were incapacitated, with 147 of them dead and another 120 or so injured. The losses were suffered mainly during the final confrontation when the last of the cavalry managed to band together and launch a counterattack. After all, the Local Defense Brigade troops are only used to fighting defensively. Assaults like these are not their forte," Freiyar explained.
"Let's clear up the battlefield for now, we still have some work to do. Why don't we give Count Aslan a meeting gift?" Lorist said hatefully.